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What marketers can learn from Brown v Coakley

On Monday, David Meerman Scott wrote a prophetic piece in the Huffington Post entitled Coakley v Brown: The Social Media Divide May Decide Election.  Now that the results of the race are in, we’re all dialed into the fact that social networking as a campaign tool is here to stay.

I turned to Colin Delany, Founder/Editor, Epolitics.com and author of Learning from Obama: Lessons for Online Communicators in 2009 and Beyond and How Candidates Can Use the Internet to Win in 2010 to start today’s conversation about social media in politics and how it overlaps with what we’re all experiencing in the business world.  To kick things off:

Colin, can social media give challengers — be they political underdogs or upstart business competitors — a real leg up?

Absolutely, social media tools are a perfect fit for underdog or insurgent candidates and companies. Since they’re cheap in terms of money, they work well for organizations with more time and enthusiasm than cash on hand.  Plus, they connect a campaign or company directly with its potential supporters or customers without going through some kind of intermediary or filter. Social media channels provide a straight path to people’s hearts and minds.

And since social tools aren’t as trackable as, say, TV commercials, they can let a company operate a little more out of the direct public eye.  Look at Scott Brown — he built his base via personal appearances, email, Facebook and Twitter without his Democratic opponent even realizing it until it was too late.

How important is integrating social media across all aspects of a campaign/organization, rather than isolating the responsibilities within one department?

Integration is absolutely key for social tools, both with other online tools (email is still the killer app for political communications, for instance — Obama raised 2/3 of the money he took in online via email) and with a campaign or company’s broader communications and outreach.  Each tool on its own may have a limited effect, but used together they tend to reinforce each other.  It’s a big mistake to think of social media in isolation.

Social tools also seem to work best when they’re integrated across an organization rather than being confined to a defined “online team” (or worse, the tech team…).  Encouraging employees and customers to use social media makes each one of them an ambassador in the online spaces they frequent, and can help to put a human face on a brand.  They also can help a company or campaign spot trends in the public mind before they show up in sales or votes. Of course, many companies and organizations find it hard to cut people loose to speak in what is effectively a public space — training and clear expectations are vital.

And now, your turn: what social media takeaways from the Massachusetts senatorial race will you point out to your boss or client?